When I woke up yesterday morning the last thing that seemed like an awesome way to pass time was to be outside. It was raining and cold with a forecast of snow. But despite a stupid hamstring and even more stupid weather I really wanted to race this one. My hamstring has been making good progress despite continued training and a half marathon last weekend, and to me part of racing is making the best of the cards you are dealt that day and doing the best you can under the circumstances. There’s really no such thing as “if the course wasn’t so hilly” or “if I wasn’t dehydrated” or “if only I had slept better last night”. You chose a hilly course, you didn’t drink enough water, and that sucks that you didn’t sleep well. But that’s how it is and you better try your hardest to be the best you can today, and do your best to capitalize on others’ crappy cards, too.
Back to the hamstring: Though I haven’t slowed my training much I’ve been really excellent about icing, not stretching, and listening to exactly what my dumb leg needs, constantly. And I guess I’ve been doing something right; since the worst of it the Tuesday before last I’ve made notable progress daily. Which made it disconcerting when I woke up for the race and it felt more tight than it had the day before. Tight muscles + 36 degree racing weather isn’t exactly recipe for success, but I decided to go, check things out, and give myself permission to quit without considering it quitting at any time.
When I arrived on site it was so windy that Lake Washington was white-capped and crashing all along the park. Oh and there were kiteboarders there. On Lake Washington. If that tells you anything… I arrived, registered and developed my plan of attack: 30 minutes before start time I’d start running parts of the course to warm up. If my leg didn’t let up I’d slow jog the 10k. If with 10 minutes to go it still felt good I’d throw in some fast accelerations to see if it would tweak out or adapt to the speed and hold.
Warm up was a success in more ways than one. I saw a bald eagle swoop to the lake to fish about 100 feet away; I’ve never seen one so incredibly close and it was breathtaking. My leg started loosening up and letting go of the knot, so my new goal became to stay loose up until and through the race. I knew if I stayed smooth and steady – even if fast – it would behave. And lastly out on the warm-up I spotted some “race friends,” AKA runners I recognize from past events. Though I still think triathletes are the friendliest athletes around, I like that I’m starting to get a better feel for the running scene. It’s nice to know who the fast ones are, and it’s nice to feel like maybe some of them recognize me, too.
Finally it was Go Time so I slow jogged back to the start, climbed into the starting queue two rows from the front and we went!
10k 6.2mi // Time: 42:52 // 6:55 min/mi
Things I did well:
Adapt my plan and stay smart. I knew that I shouldn’t have a lot of expectations for this race, so I managed realistic hopes for a steady performance rather than set an awe-inspiring goal. With every stride I assessed my health and pushed my pace conservatively. When the course got muddy or hilly or snaked I reassessed some more to keep my pace strong but not compromise my leg with an uneven surface or quick movement. I wasn’t too proud to accept this and be okay with it.
Keep a competitive mindset. I effectively used the people in front of me to pull me forward and to scout what was coming up ahead. This was a little tricky because the 5k, 10k and 15k all started together and consisted of 1, 2 or 3 loops accordingly, so you never knew who was running what until you reached the finish of a loop and runners either stopped or kept running. Though I wasn’t running to gut myself I picked people to pull from and continued to climb the ladder for the entire race.
Size myself up and start right. I’m pretty good at knowing my own pace, but I also assume that I’m much slower than everyone else. The last couple of races I’ve gotten frustrated trying to pass around slower groups of people so at the start I lined myself up two rows back, right behind the crazy fast guys. I only got passed by a couple of people the entire race (5k-ers) and ended up picking off many of those who started in front of me, and constantly had someone to try to catch. I think I did good.
Things I could have done better:
Scout the course. I absolutely know I should have done this and I didn’t because I’m lazy, not because it was impossible. If I had scouted the course I would have known where the big hill was, where the crappy snakey path was, and to expect a mud run in the second half of the loop.
Reach out. Like I said, I always feel like triathletes are more friendly than runners. They cheer each other on as they get passed, and nothing brings two strangers together more quickly and closely than a mutual love for the sport. I saw runners that I recognized and waited for them to give the smile and nod. They didn’t, so I didn’t. But one of them gave me a cheer at the end of their 5k, and I realized I should have been the one to reach out. Next time. Though I was the only person on the course to cheer people on as they passed, I could have done better.
I had a really great time yesterday, and though many signs pointed to ‘skip it’ I’m really glad I didn’t. I’m starting to get the hang of racing so that I can show up, know the plan will work, and feel confident about what I’m doing rather than worry about everyone else. In my opinion racing should always hurt and be uncomfortable if you’re doing it right, but if you have a plan and confidence you welcome the pain rather than fear it. Now I’m really looking forward to my next race in February.